Help me develop the patience to get fit.
December 27, 2015 2:26 PM   Subscribe

I am a 45 year old man who needs to lose 60 pounds. I have come to terms with this. I need to quit drinking, eat less processed food (I'm a vegetarian, but still), and exercise. I used to be an athlete. I was a distance runner a decade ago before letting myself go. I have a game plan for diet and exercise, but I need advice on one aspect of the process.

The reason I believe my weight loss/fitness goals have failed in the past is because I am so impatient. I realize logically that I need to focus on a lifestyle change more than results, but I simply cannot get my mind around the patience I will need for this journey.

So my question is this: how did you do it? How to you get your mind around the length of time this process with take, and stay patient with yourself?

Thanks, as always.
posted by 4ster to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Set short-term, small goals and reward yourself for each one. I know it sounds stupid, but really do this and really do reward yourself for every small milestone. First week keeping to workout schedule? Reward. First 5-pound loss? Reward. 10 pounds? Reward. Yes, you'll hit a point where your lifestyle really has changed and the rewards aren't the reason you do it any more, but until then, celebrating each tiny step toward progress with a real, tangible thing you do to be good to yourself does help. A lot. Obviously don't make the rewards food (unless it's something like a fancy spice blend that will make you enjoy your eating plan more), but instead identify things that will make it fun for you to keep going: new music downloads, new workout gear, new smaller-size clothing item, etc.
posted by Miko at 2:33 PM on December 27, 2015 [8 favorites]

Best answer: For me, it was a couple of things. First, don't look at it as having to lose 60 pounds. Start smaller. Like 5 pounds. - which is relatively quick to do. Seeing the results encouraged me to do more - another 5 pounds and so forth. It was no longer thinking that I have to lose 30 pounds or whatever and that itd take forever to lose it. I told myself I wanted to be 135. Then I lost those 5 lbs. Next I told myself I wanted to be 130 pounds and I did it, etc until finally I was at my end goal.

The other thing that helped - and helped with my self sabotaging ways and procrastination was realizing that the sooner I started the sooner the results. And this also worked when I slipped up - the sooner I got back on track the closer I was to results.
posted by Sassyfras at 2:36 PM on December 27, 2015

Best answer: I prefer to make my goal the action rather than the result. So in your case, this might mean that on a day when you eat your veggies and run for 20 minutes, you win. You met your goal for the day. BOOM! And the next day you have another goal. And on a day when you don't meet the goal, you can just try again tomorrow.
posted by bunderful at 2:38 PM on December 27, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I was born with zero patience. I seem to have not gotten that gene.

When I was trying to come back from a serious health crisis that involved significant weight gain, I found it enormously helpful to find some means to track forward progress. I needed to be able to show myself that things I was doing were actually making a difference. I am terrible at being good or doing the right thing or "lifestyle changes" simply for some vague, hand-wavy notion of abstract goodness or whatever.

I had no need to reward myself. Getting stronger, having more stamina, etc. was reward enough. It made a significant difference in my quality of life to gradually get stronger and healthier. But I did need to be able to SEE that what I was doing was, in fact, accomplishing something, no matter how slowly. In short, I needed to be able to quantify the results. Because otherwise the progress was happening too slowly for me to have a sense that it was really doing anything to keep at it.
posted by Michele in California at 2:39 PM on December 27, 2015 [4 favorites]

I recall that it helped to not think about the goal at all, but to trust and have faith in the process. When I just got up and worked out every morning, I could relax for the rest of the day (in my mind) - because I had done what I needed to do to work toward my goal, and anything else that I decided to do for myself and my health on top of that during the day would be a bonus! I just made that a morning routine, and the afternoon was mine to enjoy - without me feeling like I had to make it a long cardio or strength routine. A walk, or a bike ride to clear the head, I could do for the sheer pleasure of it.
posted by itsflyable at 2:42 PM on December 27, 2015

Best answer: What Miko said. Short term goals, which can be measured in accomplishments relating to effort. So-- I work out 30 minutes 5/7 days for two weeks, then I get to buy a new sports outfit. Get on the scale if you want to, but gamify the process and not the results.

Also, don't try to make too many changes at once. After a long illness I had to lose 50 pounds (and I have a small frame) and at the beginning I was still very ill. It took me a year+ to do it, but my main "secret" was making tiny incremental changes to my diet and exercise and repeating them until they took hold. Again, I made a little game out of the process and gave myself rewards. (My ex ate a lot of big heavy red meat meals, so I made a little system where I could eat red meat once a week and "earn" other meat days through working out.)
posted by frumiousb at 2:51 PM on December 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

A healthy weight loss goal - the kind of loss that sticks - is on the order of 20 pounds a year, maybe 30 if you're a large-frame man with some easy low-hanging bad habits to kill. That should be your goal - that's a real "win", not dropping 60 pounds as fast as possible.

Reverse-engineer your shorter goals from that longer-term goal. That's about 2 pounds a month. Set your goals on a monthly (or even weekly, if that's not courting an unhealthy obsession, which it is for some people) basis and make as much attempt to not overshoot them as you make to meet them.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:07 PM on December 27, 2015

Best answer: Make it less about deprivation for more about your move to a permanent new lifestyle. This might mean a LONGER weight loss period, but that's completely cool.

Some specifics -- maybe you don't quit drinking if drinking is something you enjoy and doesn't otherwise cause you difficulties. Maybe there are positive dietary inclusions (as opposed to exclusions) that you can emphasize -- go to town a bit on the eggs and cheese you'll ultimately be adding in lieu of the processed carbs you're reducing?

Also, maybe you can reconfigure your exercise (boring, strenuous) program into a sports (social, challenging) program? For example, every serious tennis player I know in his 40s or 50s is whip thin and many took up the sport relatively late in life. Looks there will be a lot of snow in the Rockies and Sierras into April -- in 3.5 months at 2 pounds a week you'd have 30 pounds less on your thighs and calves for bashing those spring bumps.
posted by MattD at 3:11 PM on December 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm gonna second bunderful in a way, in that you might try to reframe your impatience so that impatience with success is redirected to impatience with failure. Impatience with not having yet quit something that slows your goal. Impatience with refusing to eat a box of Mallomars, impatience with not having exercised, impatience with your rate of success. Quitting because you're not there yet ignores your habits and biological limits on how much weight can be lost how fast and under what circumstances. For me, finding out the science and trainer-y information has helped me focus on the right things.

But a lot of this doesn't always follow logic, so we have to find what works for us individually.
posted by rhizome at 3:16 PM on December 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

Two things that work for me:

A) Develop a skill. Have you always wanted to ski? Learn weight lifting? Pick something that interests you that you don't know much about, then you can plan your exercise and diet plan around that.

B) Go to a group class. I found that when I started going to a class that I was much more motivated to show up at the gym because I knew classes were, for example, every Monday at 7pm. I couldn't tell myself "I'm tired, I'll just go tomorrow." It's Monday at 7pm, every week. Having a rigid schedule helps me know how to plan my week. I know when I'll be at the gym and I can plan the rest of my life around that.

These two ideas work pretty well together, actually.
posted by deathpanels at 4:06 PM on December 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

So my question is this: how did you do it? How to you get your mind around the length of time this process with take, and stay patient with yourself?

I graphed my weight loss.
posted by srboisvert at 4:40 PM on December 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Regarding the length of time: Time will pass anyway, whether you're working on yourself or not. So you can be in the same as place in a year or in a great place stronger and 60 pounds lighter. It won't take the whole amount of time before you feel a lot better either. That comes much quicker than your end goal.
posted by cecic at 4:59 PM on December 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

By coincidence my goal at 59 was to lose 50 pounds and I ended up losing 60. The above advice offered by others is good, so I will just mention a few points that complement theirs.

- I used MyFitnessPal, something about counting down calories and seeing the negative was like a red alert. Also when I exercised in the morning it immediately added calories I could eat. I had told it I wanted to lose a half pound a week, but I ended up losing 3 pounds a month, pretty regularly. So the "reward" was me seeing that 3 pounds come off, plus the clothes size changes. You know, I am now wearing "slightly fitted medium dress shirts". That continues to shock me, because I was always large and sometimes extra large during my life.

- I have mentioned this before on the green, but I threw some money at the problem. I bought an elliptical and set-up a flat screen TV and watch action movies to distract me. I can easily ride for 20 minutes, as much as 35 some days. The latter is best, because it's about 1/3 of an action movie.

- I know you identify your problem as patience, but it might (???) also have an aspect of cause/effect separation. If you look at The Hacker's Diet he talks about our body's being thermostats that over-correct (over simplifying for sake of a comment). People don't believe in calorie counting because it takes days of maintaining a constant diet/exercise to see the connection, and many people can't maintain that attention span or discipline (including me at holidays or vacations).

I hope this is the attempt that works for you, just like mine was for me at 59!
posted by forthright at 6:28 PM on December 27, 2015 [3 favorites]

It's also important to note that weight loss is 90% diet. To lose weight, you need to be running on a daily calorie deficit. It's not too important what you do, ideally something aerobic, but as long as you are doing something active every day you'll bump up your daily caloric requirements. Start by tracking your calories from your diet and be really rigorous about it for at least a week to get a sense for how you're eating. There are some nice apps that do this now. I used MyFitnessPal on Android.
posted by deathpanels at 6:33 PM on December 27, 2015

Google "Hadd distance running". That was what started me running again. I lost 45 pounds. I was a distance runner before and became again. And I was really patient with the base building I learned to do from Hadd. Lots of easy stuff at 70% MHR and pounds fell off. I didn't diet at all.

You can do it. If it feels like you're running too fast, you are. Get a HR monitor and run at ~70% MHR--the pace at which you can carry on a conversation.

Start 3x week for 30 mins. (And at first focus more on time run than distance.). Easy. And ramp up slowly. Injuries will come more easily with age and weight.
posted by persona au gratin at 12:32 AM on December 28, 2015

I am approaching this question more as "how do I create a sustainable life change in physical activity" instead of talking about weight loss specifically. I am not a competitive person in the slightest so my advice is a bit atypical heh.

Honestly, exercise by itself for the sake of itself is incredibly boring. It sounds like you do OK at the start but as soon as it shifts from new to tedious you struggle (I can relate to this). You can either try to muscle through the boring to do it anyway or you can try to find a way to make exercise more interesting. You don't need to think it's the greatest thing ever but it's a lot easier to get started on your exercise for the day if you are looking forward to a little part of it - maybe find a route you think is really pretty, listen to music that makes you feel like you're the hero in a movie, that zombies run app if that's your style, have several routes that you swap between, etc.

I never had any success with getting fit until I got a large breed dog that needed a lot of walking. 8 months in and some days I'll take her for over 6 hours of walking without realizing it (this time last year I literally would not leave my house for days at a time). Being in better shape feels more like a side benefit of taking care of my dog. I know this is kind of weird advice (and I'm not saying you should get a dog) but it's shown me what people mean by a "lifestyle change" - I had to find something enjoyable about the new life structure I was adopting, something that made the change worthwhile regardless of whether I was achieving my goal(s), something that I felt committed to and good about. The goal is to find something motivating/worthwhile enough to keep you from going back to your old structure once your goal has been attained.

If you're a sociable person, I think group classes might serve a similar purpose. Guilt over not going and feeling accountable to other people is a huge source of motivation for many people. This is also partially why folks get exercise buddies or go to the gym with their friends.

As for how to be patient... focus less on the goal. I know that sounds counter-intuitive but if you focus on each goal (or micro goal) and are constantly pushing yourself to achieve achieve achieve then you're going to be wired and anxious to see success. Find something you enjoy enough to stick to, and do it. Make showing up your goal. If you feel good that day and you're a competitive spirit, go ahead and push your maximum distance or time or whatever. Remember that your goal here is less "cross the weight loss line as soon as possible" and more "be physically active regularly in ways that my body can handle for the rest of my life".
posted by buteo at 7:02 AM on December 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

So my question is this: how did you do it? How to you get your mind around the length of time this process with take, and stay patient with yourself?

A few things. I was really fit before I met my partner. I largely kept fit by being diligent about what foods I stocked my kitchen with. If I only brought home veg, greens, grains--no sodas or chips or french fries or cookies in the house--then I only made meals that fit the profile I needed to keep up with (I have Crohn's, which I can manage spectacularly with diet, but I also have issues about overeating and portion sizes, especially with convenience foods). Of course I could have cookies and fries and desserts, but I either had to bake them from scratch myself (which itself makes you eat them more mindfully) or go out and get them at a restaurant. It's pretty easy to commit to planning a week's meals, making a grocery list, and sticking to the list only when you're stocking your pantry.

Then I met my partner, and we moved in together. He's what I call a compulsive grocery shopper. He goes out with a grocery list that reads collards-onions-garlic-tomatoes and comes home with those things plus tofurkey kielbasas, tortilla chips and guac, two bags of salted peanuts, ginger cookies, ice cream... you get the picture. This is hard on both of us, because: he feels good buying what he fancies but he's also overweight and feels perpetually guilty about his weight when he overindulges; I feel bad trying to control his grocery shopping, but then I end up eating the foods he buys, too.

We've been working on it, largely motivated by health events that bring the importance of this back into focus. I have a Crohn's flare up about two or three times a year when my diet is too flexible, which otherwise only happens about once every other year when I'm more diligent. Partner's dealing with his first indication that he might be developing insulin resistance. We're both using it to motivate us back to meal planning, grocery list-using, and portion size control.

Aside from that, my best advice is to avoid weighing yourself more often than every two weeks. It took us years to get to our current weight, so you know that weight loss will not be reflected in obsessive daily weight checks. Take some pressure off yourself and focus on your healthful habit forming, worry less about the measures of success day to day.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 12:05 PM on December 28, 2015

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